Ferris State's Bronkema coaching in TBT

Ferris State University head men\'s basketball coach Andy Bronkema talks with his team during a game this past season.

Andy Bronkema is back around the game he loves.

He's getting room service a couple of times a day, is within walking distance of practice and the hotel he's at is connected to the arena where games are played.

Bronkema, a McBain native and current men's basketball coach at Ferris State University, is an assistant coach with D2, one of 24 teams competing in the 2020 edition of The Basketball Tournament (TBT).

TBT is an annual tournament made up of non-NBA professional and former college players from around the country. It started in 2014.

Usually, it's a single-elimination 64-team event with a prize of $2 million to win it all. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's been trimmed to just 24 teams with a $1 million prize.

The 23 games will be played July 4-14 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio and will be the first live televised basketball played on U.S. soil since the pandemic began in mid-March. All games are televised live on ESPN/ESPN2.

D2, as the name implies, is made up of former NCAA Division II players. Grant Leonard, the team's GM/head coach, is the associate head men's coach at Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina.

Leonard and Bronkema connected with each other during Ferris State's run to the 2019 NCAA Division II national championship and they stayed in touch.

"(Grant) is a friend of mine and we've stayed in touch," Bronkema said. "He just asked me if I wanted to be involved and I said yes.

"He coached (in TBT) last year so he had a real specific type of team he wanted to build."

Former Ferris State standout Deshaun Thrower (Muskegon) is on the team, as are Kevin Capers (Florida Southern), Wendell Davis (Ashland), Mike Davis (Queens Univ. of Charlotte), Jesse Hardin Jr. (Walsh), Brian Harper (Paine), Demario Mayfield (UNC-Charlotte/Angelo State), Brady Skeens (Washburn) and Taren Sullivan (Findlay).

Bronkema is one of five assistant coaches under Leonard.

"The talent on this team overall is special," Bronkema said. "This is the best team I've ever coached. They're all grown men and they're all professionals.

"Some of them are very accomplished and others are in the early parts of their careers."

D2, the No. 24 seed, will tip off the tournament in the first game at 3 p.m. Saturday against No. 9 seed Big X.

Big X (Big Ten) includes former Michigan State players like Nick Ward and Javon Bess, along with former Wisconsin standout Trevon Hughes and Ohio State's CJ Jackson.

In 2019, a total of 59 players with NBA experience participated. In addition, 34 players have gone on from the TBT to sign deals with NBA teams. Teams are seeded based on each team's talent, chemistry and reliability. Games also utilize the Elam Ending, which eliminates the game clock at the end of play and sets a Target Score.

Bronkema and D2 owe an awkward "thank you" to COVID-19 for getting the team into the tournament.

One of three alternate teams asked to go into quarantine in Columbus, D2 got into the tournament when the Jackson (Tenn.) Underdawgs had a player test positive for COVID on Wednesday.

"We had no control of where we'd be flexed in and to play a Big Ten team is cool," Bronkema said. "These guys all know each other so it's a good matchup."

With the novel coronavirus still a huge concern for sports across the country, each team has been quarantined to the hotel in Columbus. Teams are put together in small groups and each person has their own room. Outside of small-group socialization, interaction with others is limited.

"I'm on my fifth COVID test," Bronkema laughed. "We were tested before we went to (team) camp in North Carolina and they test every day here.

"I'd imagine this is a little like trying to get into the White House. We have to stay within our quadrants with masks and gloves on all of the time and they bring all of our meals to our rooms."

Bronkema is able to connect and see his family with FaceTime and Zoom. He's said it's too bad living in a "bubble" but he couldn't do it for long.

"They've got good wifi so I can work a lot in the hotel room," he laughed. "We're meeting the players and building relationships with them. Some of them I've coached against and others I am meeting for the first time.

"It's not all bad in this bubble but I couldn't do this for a long period of time."

The goal of every team is to win the tournament and Bronkema said Leonard's roster is built just for this event.

"We're here to win it…just like anything else you do," Bronkema said. "We've also got a chip on our shoulders being all D2 guys. We're out to represent small-college basketball and that's an important thing for us.

"This is all something we love to do and to be able to play a game with a ball in your hands again is great."

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